This is not to say that last season was without its memorable moments and high notes (think second win in the Frozen Apple, historic defeat of Denver, and two emotional Harvard games). None can erase what lies ahead of this coming season. The Cornell hockey program will be on a path of proving next season. All the questions with few exceptions encircle addressing the Red's offensive woes throughout the entirety of last season. In a multipart series, this contributor of Where Angels Fears to Tread will address the ways in which the coming team will redress this fever-inducing problem.
This contributor predicted what contribution of goals and points can be expected of the freshman class this season based upon the performance of former wearers of the carnelian and white relative to the production of those players in their last season of junior hockey. No matter how large the freshman class is, it cannot be expected to deliver the yeoman's share of offensive production that will propel a team toward regular-season and postseason success. That task rightfully falls to the upperclassmen.
What can the Lynah Faithful expect of the skaters from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes? Adages inform fans and coaches alike that the most significant improvement that any player will experience in playing ability occurs between a player's freshman and sophomore seasons. So, there you have it, the buck stops with Ryan Bliss, Jared Fiegl, Alex Rauter, Dwyer Tschantz, Dan Wedman, and Trevor Yates. Satisfied?
Did not think so. You come to Where Angels Fear to Tread expecting a little more bang for your buck and to find analysis more probing than an episode of The X-Files (hopefully not the only throwback watched this season). How's this for probing? This contributor went through the careers of every skater who played for Mike Schafer, parsed each player's goal and point totals from each year of his career, and calculated each player's relative improvement from one season to the next. This approach incorporates data from two decades of players. It relies upon the seasonal statistics from well over 100 players who played within Schafer's system.
Each player's data were reduced to units of goals and points per game. Why was this choice made? It is the most meaningful way of assessing what a player will do when his number is called to start in a big game, or any game. There is a vast situational gulf between players who score five goals in five games and those who score five goals in 36 games.
Relative or proportional improvement was selected rather than absolute improvement because athletic output varies incrementally. Objectively, a player who scores one goal in his freshman year and then scores five in his sophomore year improved much more than a player who scored five goals in his freshman year and then scores nine goals in his sophomore year. Both scored four more goals. One improved by 400% while the other did by 80%. This highlights that output increases as a percentage of a base level rather than an artificial absolute. This choice in model permits more general applicability.
The difference between forwards and defensemen was maintained throughout this approach. The scoring efficacy of forwards and defensemen are subject to other concerns during their development. Many defensemen come to East Hill to work with Coach Schafer to improve their defensive game after possessing developed offensive upside. Forwards may receive more ice time as they progress through the ranks of the team. An elder forward often matures into a go-to goal scorer while elder defensemen play nearly half of a contest and become committed most to responsible defensive play without err. These development paths likely affect the incremental goal scoring changes that each position experiences over four seasons.
Preserving the forward-defenseman distinction proved fortuitous. Variations in scoring over four-year careers of players under Schafer differ greatly between forwards and defensemen. Application and explication of the data follow.
Well, as is often the case, adages are not accidental. The greatest appreciation in goal scoring occurs between freshman and sophomore campaigns, and junior and senior campaigns. For forwards. Remaining with the freshman-sophomore and junior-senior jumps, defensemen actually experience a decrease in goals per game between their junior and senior seasons. This taper accompanies an explosion in points per game production of 40% as blue liners's roles on the team mature.
Now, back to the forwards. Rising freshman and rising junior forwards score more in the following season by the largest margins. How much more? The greatest scoring surge of any type of player occurs for forwards transitioning between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Goal production of these transitioning players increases by more than 55%. The complementary point increase is even greater. Sophomore forwards tally more than 60% more points per game in their second season than they do in their first. A second wind of sorts comes for forwards in the next big jump period as well.
Senior forwards improve their goal-scoring rate nearly as much as they did after their first post-Cornell offseason. Seniors find the back of the net nearly 50% more often in their final run in the carnelian and white as they did when they were juniors. However, senior forwards endure their career-worst improvement in terms of point production with an increase of a mere 23% relative to their rate during their junior seasons. This wraps up explication. So, let's apply these findings.
Rising freshmen of both the defenseman and forward varieties improve in terms of both goals and points per game production. The blue liners register 60% more points per game in their second stint which equates to roughly the same scoring improvement expected of similarly situated forwards. Sophomore defensemen find the twine behind opposing netminders 29% more frequently than they did during their first season carrying the historic responsibility of being a Red blue liner.
This writer's model projects that this season's sophomore class will contribute 0.39 player-goals per game and 1.87 player-points per game. The players from the other cohort that improves most statistically, this season's senior class, are anticipated to provide 0.79 player-goals per game and 0.94 player-points per game. The departed Class of 2015 gave last season's team production rates of 0.82 player-goals per game and 2.85 player-points per game.
Those data reveal that neither this season's sophomore nor senior class can be expected with average incremental scoring changes of its members to erase the player-goals and player-points per game contribution of last season's senior class. This is somewhat disappointing news. The production of this season's senior class is expected to fall within 0.03 player-goals per game of that of last season's senior class which is partially reassuring. Falling short of replacing a nearly impotent offensive arsenal by no matter how small of a margin still leaves this season's team with great strides to be made.
The optimism in this statistic is that four seniors are projected with a model based upon mean data to mask all but the slimmest of goal-scoring contributions from the six members of last season's senior class. The model even anticipates the offensive goal scoring of Reece Willcox to dip this season. An assumption founded in historical statistics but that finds little subjective justification to anyone who watched flashes of Willcox's offensive abilities early last season before his injury.
Now, what about those 2.85 player-points per game that the Big Red lost? Well, it should take the collective might of both the sophomore and senior classes to eliminate that deficiency. An ill omen is unearthed in that the combined expected player-points per game production of the sophomore and seniors classes combined falls short of the same datum for the elder statesmen of last season by 0.04 player-points per game. So, while the sophomores and seniors of this season's team should surpass the player-goals per game tallies of last season's seniors by approximately 45%, the team will remain at a loss of point production even with the combined efforts of both expectedly most-improved classes.
This conclusion is the first harbinger of alarm for the offensive outlook of the coming season's team. Examination of the expected seasons of the freshman class, and the gap between the current defensemen and their champion antecedents left readers with a much brighter glimmer of hope than does this analysis. This contributor tries to provide reasoned analysis to set expectations reasonably.
The data illustrate that the improvements over time of players go beyond statistics. Sophomores become better all-around players. Seniors improve upon their goal scoring rapidly. The careers of well over 100 players reinforce those facts beyond even statistics. In the realm of statistics, the data is clear. Sophomores and seniors will have meaningful ground to traverse to make up for offensive losses. Average improvement by the typically most-improved classes will leave the Red wanting offense.